Waiting in vain for the cotton boll

My experiment with growing cotton in my back yard, (USDA Growing Zone 6a) seems doomed for failure, barring a miracle in the next two weeks. The first frost of autumn generally arrives in mid-to-late October around here, and although my cotton plants are heavily weighted down with big bolls, not a single one has opened. Looking online for information, one extension office observed that bolls ripen ten weeks after the blossoms form. My plants began to flower around the beginning of August, which should indicate that the first bolls would be opening right around now. But so far, nada. Zilch. I have never seen such pregnant-looking plants, bent over beneath their swollen pods, but not a single one shows signs of cracking open.

This is what I have not yet seen in my garden this fall. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CottonPlant.JPG

This is what I have not yet seen in my garden this fall. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:CottonPlant.JPG

I started them inside in mid-February, assuming a 150-day growing season, but it’s been at least 160-plus days since planting them out in the garden. I experimented with digging up one of the smaller plants to see if I could bring it inside and have it ripen on a windowsill, but apparently cotton is a very tender plant and cannot bear having its roots disturbed, because it withered immediately.

My questions to gardeners who have done this before me: does the plant have to die before the bolls will open? When it frosts and the plants die, should I hang them upside down in the garden shed and see if the bolls open, or are they toast after they die?

I would be grateful for any suggestions.

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